The Munchausen State's Experiment with Mass OCD

Near his life's end, Howard Hughes lived in hotel rooms with blackout curtains on the windows, spending most of his day lying in bed.  When he had to walk, he wore tissue boxes on his feet because he feared that his soles would pick up unseen germs lurking on the carpet.

While some of the stories written about Howard Hughes are more myth than history, the brilliant and fabulously wealthy American entrepreneur was in fact a victim of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  Some say his severely neurotic, bizarre habits hastened his death.

Since Hughes was rich enough to hire a staff that would follow his precise orders without question, he was able to create a mini-society he could completely control.  As OCD UK reports, his specifications were detailed and weird: 

He ... ordered staff to wash their hands multiple times and layer their hands with paper towels when serving his food[.] ... Other reported instructions to his employees were even more elaborate.  In order to remove his hearing-aid cord from the bathroom cabinet, servants were given exhaustive instructions:

  • Use six to eight tissues to turn the knob on the bathroom door
  • Then use six to eight new tissues to open the bathroom cabinet and remove an unused bar of soap
  • Then wash hands
  • Use at least fifteen tissues to open the door to the cabinet containing the hearing aid
  • Remove the sealed envelope containing the hearing aid with two hands using another fifteen tissues in both hands

Biographers record that Howard Hughes's mother was a germophobe.  Her motives may have been good.  She may have believed that because of her efforts to provide her son a risk-free environment, she was creating a safe space.  She wanted to ensure that Howard would not get sick like other children.

America has seen the equivalent of Howard Hughes's mom and his OCD appear in several forms.

In the presently silent halls of academia, the phobia against disturbing and disruptive ideas led administrative nannies to create safe spaces in which students could be free of disquieting thoughts.  Through carefully monitored rituals excising dissent, a tabula rasa onto which no discomfiting thought would be writ could be produced.  If wayward germs of thinking were discovered, thought police would ferret them out and cleanse the system.

The idea of safe places has certainly not been confined to academia, but has filtered down to most institutions of society.  The body politic is to tamp down its noisome, contentious, diseased, and dangerous elements — i.e., everyone who disagrees with the prevailing mindset.  The entire world could become a safe space.

In a manner similar to academia's riddance of germy thinking, the arrival of the coronavirus has given the political elite of the nanny state an opportunity to attempt to make the entire nation a safe place.  Germs and viruses will be totally eliminated, no matter what the cost.  The Wuhan virus is a bit like thoughtcrimes, as it also is seemingly ubiquitous, invisible, systemic, and difficult to diagnose except by those who have declared themselves able to discern symptomatic evidences.  It follows that a universal disease requires constant cleansing of society.  It requires constant examination of those who have been or might be infected by it.  It's a universal germ that must be chased down with the vigilance of an Inspector Javert.

As Conrad Black has noted, "[t]he national Democratic leadership locked arms and deployed their media acolytes in support of a prolonged shutdown where virtually everyone in the country would be tested and those who test positively identify everyone they have been in contact with in the last two weeks and those people are chased down and the hunt for the last bacillus of coronavirus is pursued throughout the country to every attic, basement, homeless shelter, and rustic cabin."

Until that happy day arrives, the entirety of our society is ordered to observe OCD rituals designed to keep America healthy.  Don't come out of your house, and if you absolutely must, stay the ritualistic six feet apart.  Wear a mask, and be sure to have washed your hands until they are raw.   Close down exceptionally infectious places like synagogues and churches while leaving the temples of materialism like Walmart open to all comers.  Don't go to the beach, don't skateboard, and don't touch anyone.

Society can deal with the random high-functioning person with OCD.  There are real people who behave like the fictitious Chuck McGill portrayed in the series Better Call Saul, a brilliant lawyer who thinks he is allergic to electromagnetic forces and so feels compelled to wear a space blanket to ward them off.  Despite his OCD, he still was able to function.

It can at least partly accommodate people who compulsively use sanitary wipes for the doorknob and who wash the keys with soap; who retrace their steps in order to be sure the kitchen surfaces have been wiped down with bleach; who unplug the iron, toaster, and blender because they think electricity connected to any appliance might be a silent killer.

The difficulties lie in the Munchausen mom and Howard Hughes statists whose psychotic, arbitrary, and erratic warfare tactics against an invisible virus are forced on the entire populace.  Requiring OCD behavior is as destructive to society at large as it was individually to Howard Hughes.

The present rules of social engagement with our fellow human beings are making neurotics of us all.  Worse, those who are proponents of the new regulations want to keep them around forever, establishing abnormality as the "new normal."  

Can we see that something is bound to go wrong with our country if we continue to regard our fellow Americans as walking pathogens?  Can we guess that something is amiss with a political philosophy that regards all of society as permanently contaminated by either invisible and wrong thinking or by an unending virus that is continually recycling and ready to attack when a distance of six feet is breached?  Can we foresee the permanent debilitation of a society that needs to be kept in an economic coma permanently, fed intravenously drip by monetary drip by the nanny Munchausen State?  Might even the most stalwart among us turn into hopeless agoraphobics who see the entire world as so germ-ridden, so sick unto death that we must stay inside forever?

We instinctively know that something is horribly amiss with a nanny-state Munchausen mom who decides that no one in her national house is going outside without the equivalent of a hazmat suit.  We know she's the kind of mom who keeps her kids in a bubble, for we've seen those kids in academia.  We've also seen the kid who is deliberately kept sick, never goes outside and never is allowed to take risks.  We all know what happens to that kind of kid.  He becomes pasty-faced, weak, and malnourished, all because he is continually weakened so Mom can continually "cure" him.  Nanny-state Munchausen Mom has an interest in keeping the body politic sick, so her cure producing a "new normal" is regarded as resurrection instead of the destruction it really is.

Ubiquitous and amorphous dangers have generated Munchausen moms and dads who have been coming forth with sure knowledge of how a universally sickened planet and populace are to be saved.  They hawk their snake oil as a cure for a body politic they continually sicken.  The entire populace is to remain forever the subject of experimentation.  Meanwhile, it is encouraged to follow OCD behavior, observing minute and complex new regulations while wearing face masks that effectively erase identity and make everyman a suspect who may have the plague.   

When the current plague has ended, despite the attempts of the Munchausen elite to keep it going by an ever expanding list of symptoms and by continual cyclical recurrence, Americans must make sure those same elites don't continue their rules and regulations forever, keeping what they insist is a permanently sickened populace under control.  Citizens need to be aware that the Munchausen mom does not want her patients to get well.  She is getting too richly rewarded for playing nurse and does not want to lose her job.

Yes, society can and should acknowledge that germs and viruses exist.  No one should deny that the coronavirus is real and that certain segments of the population are more susceptible to it than others.  But while it is a sign of hope that the president appears to be retiring the federal guidelines, it remains quite possible that individual state governors will keep them in place.

Citizens should resist governors and mayors who exhibit political Munchausen syndrome.  They should resist another capitulation to a mass psychosis that results in OCD rituals of a new order.  In the end, obsessive-compulsive behavior designed to make the world around us a safe place will weaken and even help to kill the social order.  

The truth is that the only risk-free person is a dead person.  The risk-free society is a dead society.  If the enforced OCD practices of the last months continue into the future, a neurotic nation could be living in a darkened house with Kleenex boxes on its feet.

Fay Voshell holds a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, which awarded her the prize for excellence in systematic theology.  Her thoughts have appeared in many online magazines, including the Christian Post, RealClearReligion, Russia Insider, National Review, CNS, and LifeSiteNews.  She has been a regular contributor to American Thinker since 2011.  She may be reached at

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